Former World No. 4 Soderling Talks About Life After Tennis
Before 2015, he was the only person who had beaten Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Sweden's Robin Soderling would achieve other notable results during his 10-year ATP World Tour career, including winning the 2010 Paris Masters and nine other ATP World Tour titles, before complications from mononucleosis forced him to retire in December 2015.
The ATP World Tour caught up with Soderling last week and talked with the former World No. 4 about his business, RS Tennis, and what advice he'd give players about life after tennis.
Q: How difficult was the decision to officially retire?
RS: For me, it was extremely difficult, since I was pretty young when I had to retire. I always wanted to play well over 30, especially now when you still see players I used to play against doing really well and even winning Grand Slams. In the beginning, I was pretty sick and when you don’t have your health, that is when you realise what is really important.
Then, after a while when I started feeling better, I could train again. However, I could not really get over it and come back and that is when it was really hard, but it has been some time so now I feel better again.
Q: In regards to your new business, how do you keep the competitive drive that you had when you were playing tennis?
RS: That is the thing I miss most, the feelings you had going onto centre court at a big tournament and maybe winning a match. Those are the feelings you cannot really get somewhere else, at least I cannot. As a top athlete, you feel pressure all the time, you must learn how to deal with it. It gets hard after a while, but those are also the things I really hated, having to deal with the pressure. However, those are the things I have been missing most.
Q: How has having a family helped you in your transition?
RS: It has helped a lot because it made me think of other things. For me, the decision was easy. I tried for at least a year and a half to come back and it did not really work, but with my family it was easier because I had other things to do.
They take a lot of time and even if I thought so when I was playing, I thought tennis was everything. However, when I had a family, you realise that there are other things in life, too.
Q: Was the business that you have now always something that you knew you wanted to do or was it realised towards the end of your career?
RS: No, not really. When I was healthy enough I started thinking about what I wanted to do. Obviously, I worked as a tournament director for Stockholm Open for two years and I really wanted to stay in the tennis world. I played tennis every day since I was four years old and I did not want to leave it and I could not play myself.
So, after being the Stockholm Open Tournament Director, I decided to start doing my own company because when I played I was always really picky with materials. I knew exactly what racquet I liked, balls, grips, everything. So, I just came up with this idea, I wanted to try and start off with tennis balls and I wanted to try to see if I could actually develop a ball myself, a really good ball.
It started off as a fun product. We gave it out to friends and they all liked it. Then, we said, OK, why don’t we try selling it and start a company? It was not long after that we signed a contract with Stockholm to be the official ball there and then it has been growing a lot since.
Q: In Memphis, as well?
RS: Memphis, as well. We are present now in 48 countries, maybe 49. So, yes it has been very fast but it is a lot of work, though. It is keeping me busy, but it is a lot of fun, I enjoy every day of it.
Q: What advice would you give to players today, when everyone will retire?
RS: I think advice for older players is that at the end of their career, I think it is a good thing to start thinking about what they want to do after, while they are still playing, at least in the last couple of years. So, if they want to start studying or doing anything, because the mistakes I made were that I only played tennis.
I thought at that time that there was no time to do anything else, but I think it would have actually been good for me to have something else to think about. So, at the end of their career, to start thinking about what they want to do in a few years’ time and start engaging in that.
Q: You have visited a few college tennis teams in the U.S. How has your experience been?
RS: I have really enjoyed it. There are a lot of good college players and the atmosphere at the matches is great. The players ask a lot of questions and are eager to listen to advice.